After German approval, Italy blocks consensus on EU migration crisis rules

German approval of new crisis emergency rules triggering mandatory relocation means Pact will be approved irrespectively of Italian veto over lack of mention of NGOs which it accuses of facilitating Mediterranean crossings

Italy filed an unexpected last-minute ‘veto’ on the EU’s migration reform, in an eleventh hour move right after Germany resolved an impasse and accepted compromise on the Migration Pact.

The Italian governing coalition led by the right-wing Giorgia Meloni however put one of the files of the pact, the so-called crisis regulation, on hold. And yet, EU home affairs chief Ylva Johansson guaranteed that EU ambassadors will sign off the agreement in the days to come.

Italy surprised many when it aligned itself with Hungary and Poland on the latest deal for the Migration Pact, after Meloni had lauded the mediated position advanced under the Spanish presidency last June.

This has postponed agreement on the Pact, but Italy finds itself isolated: the Coreper, the grouping of 27 national ambassadors to the EU, will meet Monday to approve the deal, and now with Germany’s support, a majority will be clinched on rules that define what a “migration emergency” is.

Germany backed down on human rights demands and paved the way for agreement on EU rules on how to deal with surges in immigration, including by detaining migrants for longer at the border.

The crisis rules determine when a country is facing an emergency influx of asylum seekers and irregular migrants, and triggers a compulsory relocation of non-EU citizens across the EU.

“If there is no reference to NGOs, I don’t know if we can accept this text,” said Italian home affairs minister Matteo Piantedosi, who was said to have not spoken publicly during the Council meeting, instead shaking his head and passing on the speakers’ baton.

The role of private and charitable NGOs – some of them German-based – facilitating migrant rescues in the search and rescue zones remains a point of contention for Italy, whose prime minister Giorgia Meloni wrote about in a letter to Germany.

Italy wants a condemnation of the NGOs in the Pact.

In the first nine months of 2023, 250,000 migrants have so far entered the EU illegally, and over 600,000 asylum requests have been received. Earlier this month, Italy called for help in dealing with the arrival of more than 12,000 people over a week on the island of Lampedusa. France beefed up its border checks with Italy and on Wednesday Germany said it would dispatch police patrols to its borders with Poland and the Czech Republic to detect migrants who should not be allowed to travel on without being registered in the first EU country of arrival.

Informal Council conclusions

Although no vote was on the agenda, ministers at their Thursday meeting had set out to reach a political agreement.

Earlier in the day, Germany’s center-left government dropped its veto over the deal, facilitating an agreement on the crisis regulation that details how EU border countries handle people seeking asylum during spikes in migration.

The rules will allow governments to take extraordinary measures in case of sudden surges, seen as the missing piece of a broader reform of the bloc’s laws on asylum and migration.

After agreeing to the bulk of the reforms in June, a group of countries including Austria, Germany, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic held up the adoption of the so-called crisis regulation, which in turn blocked negotiations with the European parliament to finalise the reform as a whole.

Diverging views within the German coalition government also played a role in the delay: the Green party pushed for stronger human rights protections, objecting to measures such as detaining migrants at the border for longer periods of time. But on Wednesday, German chancellor Olaf Scholz overruled objections from foreign minister Annalena Baerbock and said that Germany would not hold up the asylum compromise.

The EU wants to push money into a preventive model that hinders departures from North Africa and other countries of origin and transit, as well as financing joint patrols and joint operational centres that would handle “safe migration pathways”.

Once adopted, these various EU laws should result in a common framework dealing with all aspects of asylum and migration management, with more solidarity for member states where most migrants arrive, more sharing of responsibility and clearer rules for the management of persons seeking international protection.